“Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf Col 2:7): this is the theme that Pope Benedict XVI has proposed for the upcoming World Youth Days in Madrid. Along with many other bishops from various nations, I will be leading three days of reflection on this theme; in my case, with French-language groups. The first catechesis I will give will focus on the challenge for young people today to be “firm in faith”.
Many young Catholics have shared with me how difficult they find it to remain faithful to Jesus, his teaching and his Church. We live in a society where God is often forgotten. There is a
kind of “eclipse of the sense of God”, a widespread secularism that eliminates God from the public sphere.
Obviously, it is not the role of the state or society to determine which religion is true, or whether people should believe in God. However, it does seem strange that the state or society should ask people to simply forget the fundamental reality that gives meaning to their lives when they engage in the world.
If God is the source of life, then human beings who have no conscious reference to their Creator risk losing their sense of dignity and identity. This forgetfulness of God is at the root of many of society’s problems.
In a context like ours, there is an urgent need to discover anew the primacy of God in people’s lives. As the Pope himself once said: “Everything changes depending on whether God exists or not”.
To believe in God, to believe that Jesus Christ was sent by God, is not only an intellectual option. It is a choice that reorients life, gives it a new dimension, alters the way the world is seen and engaged.
Believers acknowledge that this choice is itself a blessing, a free gift from God. It is God who makes the first step, who comes to us and engages us in the depths of our being. Ultimately, faith is a living relationship with God.
The Apostle Philip once asked Jesus: “Show us the Father”. Jesus answered: “Whoever sees me, sees the Father”. Christian faith sees in Jesus-Christ the mediator between God and humanity, the one who leads us to the Father and reveals the Father to us. The encounter with Jesus is therefore at the heart of faith.
To believe is to make a fundamental life choice. It is a choice that believers claim gives meaning to life and joy to the heart. To live in faith is to live in love and hope.
Though faith is a deeply personal act, it is also a profoundly communal act. We do not believe alone, but with others. This is why the Church plays such an important role in the believer’s life: leading to faith, sharing faith, supporting the faith journey. Young people need a Church that will welcome them, listen to them, work with them. And the Church needs young people who will enrich it with their insights, their creativity and their energy.
One last point: reason alone cannot give birth to faith, but it can help lead to faith, in the same way that a guide can lead a thirsty person to an oasis. As we reflect on life, reason is brought up short by its own limitations as it confronts the ultimate mystery. This is where faith takes over from reason, as we walk into the deep mystery of the source of life which births all reality.